On the Dagli: A Translator’s Note

Alton Melvar M. Dapanas


Within the tradition of Philippine literature written in Filipino, an œuvre distinct from Philippine Anglophone literature and literatures of other local Philippine languages, the dagli (see Ang Dagling Tagalog: 1903-1936, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007) is a short prose piece which may be flash fiction or flash nonfiction or prose poem, or all, or none of them. It is a genre that proliferated in vernacular magazines, newspapers, and periodicals at the dawn of the 20th century after the Philippine-American War and the Treaty of Paris when the Americans occupied the Philippines, and the English language and American literature was imposed by the state (see Empire’s Proxy: American Literature and US Imperialism in the Philippines, New York University Press, 2011).

The Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994/2020) defines the said genre loosely as “vignettes or sketches” which could be traced back to the Tagalog pasingaw, the Binisayâ pinadalagan or binirisbiris [sometimes called dinalídalí or pinadagan] and the Spanish instantanea or rafaga, as “short account[s] … spontaneous and hurried quality … [either as] an explicit expression of a man’s love for a particular woman, but at other times … highly polemical, expressing anti-American, anti-clerical themes.” My browsing of the 1900-1940s periodicals archive (Manila’s El renacimiento; and Cebu’s Ang suga, El boletín católico, and Ang camatuoran) confirmed my initial observation that this genre æsthetically ranges from oratorically highfalutin speeches to musings of a heartbreak (or in mine and Alvarez’s native tongue, maoy), from societal treatises to narrative arc-less anecdotes of the quotidian. Such are poles apart from the dominant Euro-American short story form advocated by Iowa Workshop-schooled, Rockefeller Foundation-funded Filipinos who brought American New Criticism in our native shores in the 1960s.

Alton Melvar M. Dapanas is Assistant Nonfiction Editor at Panorama.